AEGEE-Europe warmly welcomes the “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan” published by the European Commission last month. As an organisation striving to provide young people with the necessary tools to take their future into their own hands, and concerned by the dangerously high levels of especially youth unemployment throughout the continent, AEGEE-Europe strongly supports the Commission’s aim of reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe.
When going through the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan, one could almost say it has been written after consultation with the teams of the “Europe on Track” project and the hundreds of young Europeans they have involved in their research along the tracks of Europe. The Action Plan identifies many of the barriers which were also mentioned by youth—such as the image of entrepreneurship, heavy bureaucracy, and various financial constraints—and develops almost the same solutions, including investing heavily in entrepreneurship education, cutting red tape, and setting up business incubators.
While this was not the case, it is reassuring to see that the Commission has taken young people’s environment into account, and has managed to represent many of their personal concerns. This will undoubtedly help in providing young people with properly adapted tools and support, empowering them to see and take business creation as a route out of unemployment. For this, AEGEE-Europe whole-heartedly agrees with the Commission that “investing in entrepreneurship education is one of the highest return investments Europe can make.”
One particularly interesting realisation by the Commission in this respect, is the fact that “practical entrepreneurial experiences can also be gained outside education.” Indeed, many young people will for the first time come into contact with aspects of entrepreneurship through non-formal education, by taking part in a training course, competing in a business plan challenge, or volunteering in an NGO. Also during “Europe on Track”, youth have repeatedly spoken in favour of active participation in civil society—including students organisations—as a means to gain valuable experience and skills such as creativity, book-keeping, and project management. AEGEE-Europe therefore offers its support to the Commission in its commitment to promote the recognition and validation of entrepreneurial learning—and by extension all learning—outside the formal education system.
Unfortunately, this apparent understanding of the particular employment environment of young people is at times insufficiently translated into youth-specific measures and support mechanisms. While encouraging the specific attention for such vulnerable groups as women, seniors, or migrants, AEGEE-Europe regrets that youth do not receive equal recognition in the Action Plan, but are addressed together with unemployed people from all ages. In various fields the Commission could have gone further in supporting this particularly hard-hit part of society, by inviting Member States to implement tax breaks or easily accessible starting capital loans for young entrepreneurs, continue to offer practical entrepreneurial experiences also to tertiary education students, and actively involve young people in the concrete realisation and implementation of the proposed measures.
Finally, it is ironic that, while claiming that the potential of social entrepreneurs is “often underestimated”, the European Commission at the same time seems to underestimate the importance of social entrepreneurship in the European economy of the future. The Action Plan rightly states that social entrepreneurs are more resilient to the crisis and generate sustainable jobs, thereby contributing to the EU2020 objectives, but falls short in converting this realisation into structural support for sustainable start-ups. Also, results from “Europe on Track” show that, at least among young Europeans, social entrepreneurship has a better image, providing a means for changing the perception of entrepreneurs by stressing their value to society and the environment.
Nonetheless, set on its three legs of developing entrepreneurial education and training, creating the right business environment, and nurturing the new generation of entrepreneurs, the European Commission’s “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan” offers a solid stool to those wanting to launch themselves into self-employment. Take a seat!
Mathieu Soete is AEGEE-Europe’s Policy Officer on Sustainability, working on Education for sustainability and Sustainable entrepreneurship. This post was also published on the AEGEE-Europe blog.